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US researchers warn democracy is weakening in post-communist countries

New York, 8.5.2010 4:06, (ROMEA)

Former US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic Adrian Basora says democracy has recently begun to weaken in the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The US and the EU should confront this trend because it could endanger the stability of Europe as a whole. Basora’s claims are part of a study he compiled together with Mitchell Orenstein, an analyst with the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).

"The geographical region comprised of the 29 countries created after the collapse of the Soviet Union - the Central and Eastern European and Balkan countries - are much less democratic, less secure, and less connected to the West than they were at the end of the 1990s or the start of the 21st century,” the authors say in a study published by CEPA this week. The study divides countries in the region into three groups: Strictly authoritarian regimes like Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia; mixed regimes such as those of the Balkans, Georgia and Ukraine; and developing democracies should as the 10 new EU Member States.

The authors note that signs of democratic fallback are evident even in countries which are otherwise the most successful in the region in terms of economic transformation and social foundations. Populism is succeeding there, authoritarian plans are being administered, and public disillusionment is rising. The authors note that in the year 2006, prior to the current economic crisis, the majority of people in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland said the political situation had deteriorated since 1989.

The authors also say the influence of an authoritarian Russian is evident in the region, which has sometimes attempted to undermine democratic governments. China is pursuing similar aims in Central Asia. The brief Georgian-Russian war in 2008 brought uncertainty to the region, as have the repeated natural gas crises between Russia and Ukraine. Uneasiness over these circumstances was reflected a letter sent to the US last year by prominent personalities from the region, including Václav Havel, who expressed concern over the United States’ declining interest in them.

The study says the US has done its best to dissipate this impression, mostly just through rhetoric. The authors say Washington should return to supporting democracy in post-communist countries, efforts it has reduced in recent years given the problems in Afghanistan and Iraq, a shift in focus they characterize as a mistake.

The authors say a return of authoritarian governments in the post-communist world would threaten European stability. Any failure to restore democracy there would send a bad signal to other countries attempting to build it now. The US should therefore “complete the mission” in the region.

Basora and Orenstein say the US should focus on building long-term democracies in the region and should change its rhetoric and style, emphasizing democracy as a universal value instead of just pressing for regime change. Washington should do more to collaborate with the EU to support democracy, should support democratization processes rather than individual political leaders, and should also revive its programs in support of local activists.

Basora (72) was US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1992; after the division of the country he represented the US to the Czech Republic until 1995. He currently works at the US Foreign Policy Research Institute, where he focuses on democracy building.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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